Friday, September 02, 2005

Disaster challenges all of us

I'm as riveted to the TV and the newspapers as probably every one of you are. This is the Tsunami, but it's in our back yard. Of course, in scope it's not the Tsunami, where the death toll was over 175,000 people. But for each person affected, it's the same thing.

For the next few weeks there will be a tremendous outpouring of charitable donations to support relief efforts, just as there was in the weeks following the Tsunami. However, following this there will be a need for donations to continue for a decade or more.

However, in six months or a year there will be another disaster that will mobilize public attention. Then the people who need Tsunami aid, and the people who need Katrina aid, will be off the front page and struggling to find the dollars needed to continue rebuilding their communities.

I understand this struggle all too well. At Cabrini Connections we're building lives. It takes 12 years for one of our 7th graders to reach age 25. Marquita Hall will be a volunteer with us this year. She is still only 24. Yet she has finished college and has a job helping other people. She first joined us when she was in 8th grade, after being part of the Cabrini-Green Tutoring Program since elementary school. She's still connected to some of the volunteers she first met more than 10 years ago.

Our small charity and the many other large and small charities that have been created throughout the Tsunami region, and will be created along the Gulf Coast, will need a constant flow of charity dollars for the next 10 years if today's 7th graders are to become the Marquita's of a decade from now, or if all of the people who have lost everything do to the forces of nature are to have their lives rebuilt.

We created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 because we recognized the problem charities have of consistently attracting donors. While a few programs are great at getting funds, not every program is as good, thus there is a poor distribution of good programs in all places where they are needed.

I spent 17 years doing corporate advertising for a large retail store. We sent out 3 waves of advertising to 20 million people in 40 states telling potential customers that we had stoves, clothes, tires and other merchandise they wanted in one of 400 stores that we operated. We also spent millions of dollars in making sure we had the right merchandise in those stores, well trained people, and that the stores were in the right locations.

Each store had a responsibility to do its own advertising and training but because of the support from the national advertising and training, each store was able to attract customers on a regular basis, at a fraction of what it would cost if each had to create their own advertising campaign.

We've created a master database of tutor/mentor programs serving Chicago, and we are working to build a powerful advertising/evangelism that encourages people who have been blessed to look at the database once or twice a month and determine where and how they can help a charity like Cabrini Connections get the resources (volunteers, dollars, technology, training) it consistently needs to help kids to careers. The Program Locator at is the portal that people can search to locate charities who need their help.

I had a conversation with a friend in Texas yesterday and suggested that this same type of thinking and technology needs to be put in place in many cities, and to support many causes so that when the spotlight has moved to another tragedy there is still a way to draw dollars, volunteers and public attention to all of the places where rebuilding takes years. She's a friend of the Mayor of New Orleans and will be sharing that information.

If we can continue to get the help we need to fully develop the Program Locator, and integrate it with GIS maps that visually show where need is greatest in a geographic area, we can offer it to people in the South, or in the Tsunami area, or where ever the next disaster hits, at no cost, and they can be using it in a few months to connect those who can help with the millions who will need help.

If you'd like to help us, email

Daniel F. Bassill
President, Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection

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